Jeb Bush- NH’s most vulnerable students need education choices
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Published in the Union Leader
On Wednesday, New Hampshire’s legislators will decide whether to give low- and middle-income families the option to look beyond their zip code when selecting the best school for their child. Lawmakers will have the opportunity to override the governor’s veto of SB 372 and thereby provide some of the state’s most vulnerable students the opportunity to attend the school that best fits their learning style and needs.Tuition tax credit scholarships for low- and middle-income K-12 students have a track record of improving student learning and public school performance. National testing data show that low-income New Hampshire students need help — help achievable through this legislation. New Hampshire legislators should, therefore, reaffirm their commitment to equalizing educational opportunity for students of modest means by, once again, passing tax credit scholarships.
New Hampshire has a number of outstanding schools, but there is a clear need for improvement, particularly in the academic achievement of low-income students. According to the Nation’s Report Card, 38 percent of the state’s low-income fourth-grade students are functionally illiterate. In fact, only 25 percent of low-income fourth-grade students are reading on grade level.
In passing SB 372 the first time, New Hampshire lawmakers recognized that not every school is the best fit for every child. Every child is different, and children learn best when they have the chance to learn in their own learning style, at their own pace. Every parent, regardless of salary level, should be empowered to select a school that matches his or her child’s needs. There may be a school that offers a unique program that would help a student reach his or her full potential; this tax credit scholarship could change their future.
The tax credit program created in SB 372 targets disproportionately more low- and middle-income families than traditional public school spending. Statewide, 23.5 percent of New Hampshire students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch under federal guidelines. SB 372 requires that at least 40 percent of public school students benefiting from tax credits have family incomes eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. All other tax credits would go to provide specific families — those of four or more making less than $70,000 per year — with the financial freedom to choose the best school for their child.
Giving more parents a choice will strengthen New Hampshire’s public school system. In recent years, there has been an explosion of choice options in states across the country. And the results are proving critics wrong — there is not a mass exodus from public school and students are benefiting from having a choice. It is also important to note there is not a choice program in the country that costs more than the per-student funding of any jurisdiction where the choice program exists.
Americans of all philosophical backgrounds desire schools designed to give all children — even those who start with the least — the best possible chance at success. The American dream of equality of opportunity will not be nearly fulfilled unless those less advantaged are given more power over where their children go to school. New Hampshire will be a better and stronger state if the Legislature overrides the governor’s veto.
Jeb Bush, governor of Florida from 1999-2007, is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.